When people travel to Europe they usually talk about the well known capitals like Paris, London and Rome among others. Everyone is fascinated to hear about this and even though they already know about these cities they still want to hear what other people experienced there. The lesser known capitals get passed by and they too are worth a look at. One such capital is Tirana the capital and largest city of Albania. It has quite a lot to offer tourists and this city is the center of the economic, political, and cultural life of the country. Besides when you visit and take a look around you won’t be surrounded by huge crowds.
It is known as Tirana Castle or Fortress of Justinian dating back to before 1300. It is a remnant of the Byzantine-era. This fortress was the place where all of the main east-west and north-south roads crossed and it formed the heart of Tirana. Today you can still see a 6 meter high Ottoman-era wall that is covered with vines. These recently uncovered wall foundations have been incorporated into Murat Toptani Street, which is a pedestrian street.
A rather large church consecrated in 2002 is St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was built combining a triangular and circular shape to represent the Trinity and God’s Eternity respectively. It has a plain sort of interior. Of interest are the front stained glass windows which feature both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. Classical music concerts are held here.
The incredibly large Christ’s Resurrection Cathedral opened its doors in 2012 and is the main center for the Albanian Orthodox Church. Its floor plan is about 1,660 square meters and has a 46-meter high bell tower. It doesn’t have any particular building style and at night the cathedral is all lit up.
In a small building located next to the Clock Tower is the Culture & Continuity Museum. Here visitors can see a lovely collection of 40 Albanian craft artifacts that date back to 1920. Among the items on display are silk shirts, velvet that has been embroidered with gold thread and some incredible socks.
The Clock Tower counts as Tirana’s main landmark and dates back to 1822. It gets brightly lit up at night and can already be seen from the far end of Rr. Durresit upon entering the city. The tower is 35 meters high and has a German-made clock. You can see spectacular views of Tirana from the top of the tower. At sunset the shadow of the clock falls over the mosque which was an event that long marked the closing time of the market place.
The city’s art museum the National Art Gallery displays collections of Albanian paintings and sculptures dating back to the 19th century. Here you can see art works by Vangjush Mio from Korca and Sali Shijaku’s female nude from 1961. On the upper floor are realist paintings from the 20s and 30s and Socialist Realist works showing heroic partisans and Albania’s industrial might. Here you’ll find Edison Gjergo’s lovely 1971 painting “Epic of the Morning’s Star” (at the time it was painted it was considered to be too pessimistic and the artist was arrested). Among the contemporary art is the wonderful “Dusk” by Agron Bregu. At the rear of the building are some still-defiant Communist-era partisan statues with clenched fists toward the sky and huge statues of Lenin and Stalin that have now been wrapped in protective plastic.
In the Ottoman part of Tirana you can find an elegant Ottoman stone footbridge – Tanner’s Bridge, which at one time was the main connection between the city and the highlands toward the east. Stretching across the Lana River it was a way to get agricultural produce and livestock to the market places. This was once an area of skinners and leather workers. The Lana River was rerouted in the 30s and the bridge fell into disrepair. It has now been restored and is once again used by pedestrians.
When you want to relax and take a leisurely stroll then head on over to Grand Park where the residents of the city come to rest at lunchtime, to fish or to swim. Here you’ll find Tirana Lake known as the “artificial lake” surrounded by lovely parkland. There are also some restaurants. At the west end is a dam and the Tirana Zoo. Walking eastward uphill there are several memorials. A well-kept cemetery for British troops who died fighting against Germans in WW II. Nearby are some grey stones that list the names of all of the German soldiers who died in Albania during this war. Upon the hill are the burial places of the Frasheri Brothers, who helped catalyse the Albanian national awakening in the late 19th century. Abdyl was the leader of the Prizren League; Sami was a radical agitator for an independent Albanian republic; and Naim was the first major Albanian-language poet. At the far edge of the park is The Palace of the Brigades, once the residence of King Zog. It is named after the partisans who captured it during WW II. Now used for official receptions it’s closed to the public.
Another wonderful park in Tirana is Rinia Park which has been recently cleaned-up. It has become an evening meeting place for residents, who dress up and stroll about meeting and chatting with friends. There is an unusual spidery kind of white building which is an entertainment complex called Taiwan. Inside you’ll find restaurants, a terrace café, bowling alleys and even a casino. However the main attraction of this park is the fountain located in front of Taiwan which offers a light show in the evenings.
The city’s main square is Skanderbeg Square. There is a vast traffic circle around the central lawn. The square is quite large. Here you’ll find the Soviet built Palace of Culture which is now the home to the Opera and the National Library. The mosaic on the National History Museum depicts the flow of Albanian history. Other fascinating buildings are The Puppet Theater, the National Bank and the Et’hem Bev Mosque. There is also the impressive statue of Skanderbeg.
Gjergi Kastrioti known as Skanderbeg in English and Skenderbej in Albanian is looked upon as the only historical figure who counts as an Albanian national hero. He was able to create an independent Albanian princedom and keep it free for up to 25 years. When Albania was under Ottoman rule Skanderbeg’s legacy preserved the Albanian national identity throughout all of the 500 years of their rule. Albanian’s look upon him as not only the father of their nation but also as the man who saved all of Europe from the Ottoman Empire. Skanderbeg’s Statue was unveiled in 1968 exactly 500 years after his death.
A statue of Skopje-born but ethnic Albanian Nene Tereza or Mother Teresa can be found in the southeast corner of the square with her name. This is the second most important square in Tirana after Skanderbeg Square. Here you’ll find the University of Tirana, the Archaeological Museum and the Qemal Stafa Stadium behind the square. South of the square is Grand Park.
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